Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, born in 1965 in northeast India, was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of many of the greatest masters from Tibet’s pre-exile generation. He is a widely celebrated teacher, known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds, and devotes much of his energy to developing a vision of a genuine Western Buddhism. For more information, go to

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, born in 1965 in northeast India, was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of many of the greatest masters from Tibet’s pre-exile generation. He is a widely celebrated teacher, known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds, and devotes much of his energy to developing a vision of a genuine Western Buddhism. For more information, go to

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Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso: A Guide for Readers

Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso: A Guide for Readers

Khnpo Tsultrim

Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the Kagyu tradition. Born to a nomad family in Ngangchen, Kham (the eastern region of Tibet), Khenpo Tsültrim began his training under Lama Zopa Tarchin at an early age. He later attended intensive retreats and continued his training under the lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa. Since fleeing Tibet in the late 1950's under Chinese  rule, Khenpo Tsültrim continued his studies in Northern India and later settled in Bhutan. He is the root teacher of prominent Buddhist teachers such as Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Lama Shenpen Hookham and therefore plays a significant role in their respective organizations—Nalandabodhi and the Awakened Heart Sangha.

Khenpo Tsültrim teaches widely in the West and is known emphasizing the union of practice and study. He is therefore himself a prolific scholar as well as an accomplished practitioner. Below you'll find longer biography from In the Presence of Masters, a selection of books written by Khenpo Tsültrim, as well as texts written and translated by his students under his guidance.

Short Biography

From In the Presence of Masters: Wisdom from 30 Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Teachers

Edited by Reginald A. Ray

Khenpo Rinpoche was born to a nomad family in East Tibet in 1934. Drawn to spiritual practice, he left home at an early age to train with his root guru, the yogin Lama Zopa Tarchin. After completing this early training, Tsultrim Gyamtso embraced the life of a yogi-ascetic, wandering throughout East and Central Tibet, undertaking solitary retreats in caves to realize directly the teachings he had received. He often lived in charnel grounds in order to practice and master chöd, a skillful means to cut ego clinging, develop compassion, and realize deeper levels of emptiness. Subsequently he took up retreat in the caves above Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapas, where he received instructions on the six yogas of Naropa, the Hevajra Tantra, and other profound teachings from Dilyak Tenzin Drupon Rinpoche and other masters. Escaping to India at the time of the Chinese invasion, he was able to continue his training, studying the sutras, the tantras, and all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism He became renowned for his skill in logic and debate, and received a khenpo degree from H. H. the sixteenth Karmapa, and the equivalent geshe lharampa degree from H. H. the fourteenth Dalai Lama. In 1975 Khenpo Tsultrim established the Thegchen Shedra in Athens, Greece, and for the next ten years taught throughout Europe. Since 1985 he has traveled widely, completing annual world tours in response to invitations from Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Australia. In 1986 he founded the Marpa Institute for Translators, in Boudhanath, Nepal, to offer intensive courses in language and scripture. Khenpo Rinpoche continued to supervise this annual event when it moved to Pullahari Monastery above Boudhanath. While Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso unites prodigious intellect with great compassion, he also embodies the training and temperament of a true yogi. In fact, Rinpoche is often compared to the great yogi Milarepa, whom he resembles in both substance and style.

In the Presence of Masters

$29.95 - Paperback

By: Reginald A. Ray

Books By Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso

Teachings on Buddha Nature and the Two Truths

Khenpo Tsultrim wrote a commentary for each of the most widely known texts in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, or Root Verses of the Middle Way, and Maitreya's Mahāyānuttaratantra Śāstra, or the Treatise on the Sublime Continuum.

In addition, Khenpo Tsultrim's Stars of Wisdom explains how to access the nature of reality pointed out in philosophical texts such as those above through analytical meditation, songs of experience, and other practical Tibetan Buddhist tools.

$24.95 - Paperback

The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on the Noble Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way

By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way was written in the second century and is one of the most important works of Nagarjuna, the pioneering commentator on the Buddha's teachings on the Madhyamika or Middle Way view. The subtle analyses presented in this treatise were closely studied and commented upon by many realized masters from the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Using Nagarjuna's root text and the great modern master Ju Mipham's commentary as a framework, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso explains the most important verse from each chapter in the text in a style that illuminates for modern students both the meaning of these profound teachings and how to put them into practice in a way that benefits both oneself and others.

Buddha Nature

$34.95 - Paperback

Buddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra with Commentary

By Maitreya & Asanga
With Commentary By Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro TayeKhenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso
Translated by Rosemarie Fuchs

All sentient beings, without exception, have buddha nature—the inherent purity and perfection of the mind, untouched by changing mental states. Thus there is neither any reason for conceit nor self-contempt. This is obscured by veils that are removable and do not touch the inherent purity and perfection of the nature of the mind. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, one of the “Five Treatises” said to have been dictated to Asanga by the Bodhisattva Maitreya, presents the Buddha’s definitive teachings on how we should understand this ground of enlightenment and clarifies the nature and qualities of buddhahood. This seminal text details with great clarity the view that forms the basis for Vajrayana, and especially Mahamudra, practice.

Stars of Wisdom: Analytical Meditation, Songs of Yogic Joy, and Prayers of Aspiration

By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso
Translated byAri Goldfield &  Rose Taylor Goldfield
By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

Tibetan Buddhist master Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso is known for his joyful songs of realization and his spontaneous and skillful teaching style. In this book he explains how to gain clarity, peace, and wisdom through step-by-step analysis and meditation on the true nature of reality. He also introduces readers to the joy and profundity of yogic song, and reveals the power of aspiration prayers to inspire, transform, and brighten our hearts.

Translations Under the Guidance of Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso

As a scholar-practitioner himself, many of Khenpo Tsultrim's students are active scholars, translators, practitioners, and authorized teachers. Below are a couple examples of translations and scholarship done under the guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim.

$24.95 - Paperback

Maitreya's Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being

Translated by Jim Scott
By Jamgon Mipham

Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being was composed by Maitreya during the golden age of Indian Buddhism. Mipham's commentary supports Maitreya's text in a detailed analysis of how ordinary, confused consciousness can be transformed into wisdom. Easy-to-follow instructions guide the reader through the profound meditation that gradually brings about this transformation. This important and comprehensive work belongs on the bookshelf of any serious Buddhist practitioner—and indeed of anyone interested in realizing their full potential as a human being.

$39.95 - Paperback

The Moon of Wisdom: Chapter Six of Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Way with Commentary from the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje's Chariot of the Dagpo Kagyu Siddhas

By ChandrakirtiThe Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje
Translated by Ari Goldfield, Jules B. Levinson, Jim Scott, & Birgit Scott
Under the Guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

Nagarjuna, in his seminal text, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, summarized the vast teachings of the Buddha and used logical reasoning to prove the validity of his words. Entering the Middle Way is Chandrakirti's explanation of Nagarjuna's work. Its sixth chapter, which comprises the majority of the text, has four main sections: an explanation of how in genuine reality phenomena do not truly arise; a refutation of the Mind-Only School's assertion that mind truly exists; a refutation of the true existence of the personal self; and an explanation of the sixteen emptinesses taught by"the Buddha in the Transcendent Wisdom Sutras. The Moon of Wisdom is thus a book that explains the Buddha's ultimate teachings, how to gain confidence in them, and how to put them into practice in one's"own life to the great benefit of oneself and others.

Additional Books by Khenpo Tsultrim's Students and Lineage

As mentioned above, Khenpo Tsultrim has had many prolific students over the years owing to his focus on cultivating practitioners that are both engaged in traditional practice and scholarship. Prominent students include Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, and Lama Shenpen Hookham. In addition to these two, there are a number of translators and senior students from Khenpo Tsultrim's lineage with a remarkable practice and scholastic history including Karl Brunnhölzl and Elizabeth Callahan. These examples of teachers and senior students are just a few illustrations of the flavor and style of teaching and practice presented by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhism

$21.95 - Paperback

Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

By Dzogchen Ponlop

There’s a rebel within you. It’s the part of you that already knows how to break free of fear and unhappiness. This rebel is the voice of your own awakened mind. It’s your rebel buddha—the sharp, clear intelligence that resists the status quo. It wakes you up from the sleepy acceptance of your day-to-day reality and shows you the power of your enlightened nature. It’s the vibrant, insightful energy that compels you to seek the truth. READ MORE

$17.95 - Paperback

The Guru Principle: A Guide to the Teacher-Student Relationship in Buddhism

By Lama Shenpen Hookham

Based on over fifty years of personal experience as both a student and a teacher, Lama Shenpen Hookham writes candidly of the opportunities and challenges facing modern Dharma students who wish to study with a teacher. Traditional texts often do not reflect how the student-teacher relationship really works in practice, which leaves many pressing questions in communities taking root in the West. With honesty and clarity, Lama Shenpen discusses the roles of the teacher, practices related to the guru, and commonly asked questions she receives as a teacher. This handbook is the first of its kind, breaking down in a pragmatic and relatable way everything one needs to know to enter a student-teacher relationship with open eyes and an open heart.

Karl Brunnhölzl

Karl Brunnholzl

$78.00 - Hardcover

The Center of the Sunlit Sky:Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition

By Karl Brunnhölzl

Madhyamaka is a potent and universally accessible means of calming our suffering and awakening to our innate wisdom. The Center of the Sunlit Sky artfully rescues this brilliant teaching from its unwarranted reputation for intellectual opacity and reinstates it as a supremely practical tool kit for everyday living. The aim of this book is to take Madhyamaka out of the purely intellectual corner into which it unjustly gets boxed. It is an attempt to show how Madhayamaka actually addresses and works with all of our experiences in life. READ MORE

Learn more about Karl Brunnhölzl's here: The Works Of Karl Brunnhölzl: A Guide For Readers

Elizabeth M. Callahan


$49.95 - Hardcover

Marpa Kagyu, Methods of Liberation Part 1 from The Treasury of Precious Instructions

By Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye
Translated by Elizabeth M. Callahan

The seventh volume of the series, Marpa Kagyu, is the first of four volumes that present a selection of core instructions from the Marpa Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. This lineage is named for the eleventh-century Tibetan Marpa Chokyi Lodrö of Lhodrak who traveled to India to study the sutras and tantras with many scholar-siddhas, the foremost being Naropa and Maitripa. The first part of this volume contains source texts on mahamudra and the six dharmas by such famous masters as Saraha and Tilopa. The second part begins with a collection of sadhanas and abhisekas related to the Root Cakrasamvara Aural Transmissions, which are the means for maturing, or empowering, students. It is followed by the liberating instructions, first from the Rechung Aural Transmission. This section on instructions continues in the following three Marpa Kagyu volumes. Also included are lineage charts and detailed notes by translator Elizabeth M. Callahan.

Learn more about this series here: A Guide to the Treasury of Precious Instructions

Related Books from the Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

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"Radical Compassion" Free eBook

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Tibetan Buddhism, In celebration of Naropa’s fortieth anniversary

What is compassion?

Much more than just being nice, compassion is about looking deeply at ourselves and others and recognizing the fundamental goodness we all share. It’s about opening up to the vulnerable space inside every one of us and letting our barriers down. And it’s about daring to be present to ourselves and others with genuine love and kindness.

Empowering personal awakening and social change, it might be the most radical and transformative thing we can do.

Empowering personal awakening and social change, it might be the most radical and transformative thing we can do.

The cultivation of compassion has long been at the core of Naropa University’s mission, since its origins in 1974—and its students and faculty have been leaders in contemplative education with heart.

Tibetan Buddhism, In celebration of Naropa’s fortieth anniversary

 leaders in contemplative education with heart. . . .

In celebration of Naropa’s fortieth anniversary, Shambhala Publications is pleased to offer these teachings on the path of compassion from a collection of authors who have helped shape the school’s unique and innovative identity, including:

  • Chögyam Trungpa on opening ourselves more and more to love the whole of humanity
  • Dzogchen Ponlop on how to cultivate altruism with the help of a spiritual mentor
  • Judith L. Lief on the common obstacles to compassion and how to overcome them
  • Gaylon Ferguson on awakening human-heartedness in oneself and society amidst everyday life
  • Diane Musho Hamilton on connecting to natural empathy and taking a compassionate approach to conflict resolution
  • Reginald A. Ray on spiritual practices for developing the enlightened mind and heart in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition
  • Ringu Tulku on the practices of bodhisattvas, those who devote themselves to the path of enlightenment for the sake of all beings
  • Pema Chödrön on building up loving-kindness for oneself and others with help from traditional Buddhist slogans
  • Ken Wilber on what it really means to be a support person, with reflections from his own life
  • Karen Kissel Wegela on avoiding caregiver’s burnout and staying centered amidst our efforts to help those in need and reflections on Naropa University and the meaning of radical compassion from longstanding faculty member Judith Simmer-Brown

For more information–Authors' Bios and Books:

Chogyam Trungpa

Chögyam Trungpa (1940–1987)—meditation master, teacher, and artist—founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist-inspired university in North America; the Shambhala Training program; and an international association of meditation centers known as Shambhala International. He is the author of numerous books, including Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the WarriorCutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and The Myth of Freedom.

Books by Chogyam Trungpa

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, born in 1965 in northeast India, was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of many of the greatest masters from Tibet’s pre-exile generation. He is a widely celebrated teacher, known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds, and devotes much of his energy to developing a vision of a genuine Western Buddhism.

For more information, go to

Books by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Judith L. Lief

Judith L. Lief is a Buddhist teacher, writer, and editor. She was a close student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who empowered her as a teacher, and she has edited many of his books including The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma volumes and Milarepa. She has been a teacher and practitioner for over 35 years and continues to teach and lead retreats throughout the world. Lief is also active in the field of death and dying and is the author of Making Friends with Death.

Books by Judith L. Lief

Gaylon Ferguson

Gaylon Ferguson is a faculty member in both Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado. He is an acharya, or senior teacher, in the Shambhala International Buddhist community. After studying meditation and Buddhist philosophy with Tibetan master Chögyam Trungpa in the 1970s and 1980s, Ferguson became a Fulbright Fellow to Nigeria and completed a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology at Stanford University. After several years of teaching cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, he became teacher-in-residence at Karmê Chöling Buddhist Retreat Center, through 2005, when he joined the faculty of Naropa University.

Books by Gaylon Ferguson

Diane Musho Hamilton

Diane Musho Hamilton is an award-winning professional mediator, author, and teacher of Zen meditation. She is the Executive Director of Two Arrows Zen, a practice in Utah, and cofounder of the Integral Facilitator, a training program oriented to personal development and advanced facilitator skills. She is the author of Everything Is Workable and The Zen of You and Me.

Books by Diane Musho Hamilton

Reginald A. Ray

Dr. Reginald "Reggie" Ray is the cofounder and Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation and has been dedicated to the evolution and flowering of the teachings of Tibetan Tantra for more than four decades. A longtime student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, today Reggie brings a uniquely somatic perspective to Buddhist practice. Reggie is the author of many books, including The Awakening Body and The Practice of Pure Awareness. Reggie also offers online courses on somatic meditation and retreats in Crestone, Colorado. More on Reggie can be found at

Books by Reginald A. Ray

Ringu Tulku

Ringu Tulku Rinpoche was born in Kham Lingtsang, in eastern Tibet, and was recognized by His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa as the incarnation of one of the tulkus of Ringu monastery, a Kagyüpa monastery in his home province. He studied with some of the most distinguished khenpos of the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions and received teachings from many outstanding masters, including Thrangu Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and the Gyalwang Karmapa. He is the author of Path to Buddhahood and The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgön Kongtrul the Great.

Books by Ringu Tulku

Ani Pema Chödrön became a novice nun in 1974, in her mid-thirties, while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to Scotland at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema ChodronPema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972 and studied with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to be the director of Gampo Abbey. She currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

She is interested in helping to establish Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in the West, as well as continuing her work with Western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. Her nonprofit, the Pema Chödrön Foundation, was set up to assist in this purpose.

Books by Pema Chodron

Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is one of the most widely read and influential American philos­ophers of our time. His writings have been translated into over twenty languages. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Books by Ken Wilber

Karen Kissel Wegela, PhD, is a psychotherapist and professor of contemplative psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. A longtime student of Buddhism, she speaks to professionals about the connections between Buddhism and psychotherapy and writes a popular blog at She is also the author of The Courage to Be Present: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Awakening of Natural Wisdom.

Books by Karen Kissel Wegela

Judith Simmer-Brown

Judith Simmer-Brown, Ph.D., is professor and chair of the religious studies department at Naropa University (formerly the Naropa Institute), where she has taught since 1978. She has authored numerous articles on Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and Buddhism in America. She is an Acharya (senior teacher) in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa. A practicing Buddhist since 1971, she lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Books by Judith Simmer-Brown

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Choosing Compassion

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First US Air Force Buddhist Chaplain Answers, “Why?”

by Brett Campbell

Nobody asks for the chaplain in the good moments. This is an unspoken rule I realized early in my career. Nobody thinks of the chaplain after they’ve delivered a healthy child or they take their first steps following an accident that left them bedbound for weeks. These are the times when life makes sense. We don’t question these experiences. We simply bask in the joy they bring to our hearts. It is in the moments of pain and uncertainty when the chaplain is called. The chaplain is called when the child is stillborn, when the young couple wants a divorce, or when the grandmother, the rock of the family, succumbs to old age. People call the chaplain when life veers from the path of normalcy. These are the times when suffering becomes real and our minds begin searching for answers. These are the times when, as a chaplain, I am faced with the question, “Why?”


I struggled with this question as a young chaplain. I wanted to relieve the pain a family felt when they lost their daughter to drug addiction. I wanted to fix the situation and make their hurt disappear. They asked “Why?” because they wanted relief, but I was unable to answer their question. I was only able to feel their despair and my own inadequacy. We were all stuck together in a space of intense emotion and no answers. In fact, there were no words that could heal their suffering. Sadness and confusion were the only truth in that room.


When we are faced with loss or change, we are often shaken to a place of emptiness. Reality no longer makes sense, emotions flood our system, and words lose all meaning. We normally feel like we have some control over our lives. Life seems to move along on a regular schedule. There are some bumps along the way, but it’s relatively comfortable. The problem is, that understanding of life was always an illusion. Life has always been messy and ever-changing, but that doesn’t change the fact that we want it all to make sense. When difficult things happen, we want those experiences to seamlessly weave into the stories we have about our lives. That is why I am asked, “Why?” We want answers to fill our emptiness.


Answers can relieve some suffering, but they are not the way to heal from loss and change. The truth is, the only answer to “Why?” is openness. We have to relax into the pain of loss, the pain of not knowing, the pain of change. True healing can only come through openness and letting go of our clinging to that which we have lost. That doesn’t mean we let go of the love we felt or the memories we have, but we must accept that that which we loved won’t be a part of our story going forward. As a caregiver, all I can do is create a space where fully experiencing loss is possible. I don’t have any answers to “Why?” There aren’t any answers. There is only the present moment. There is only pain and sadness and laughter and memories. These are the things we want the least when facing loss, but they are all that is left and the only thing that is real.


My time working as a chaplain has shown me that we must face our suffering in order to heal from it. If we spend our time running away from our pain by binging on television, excessive drinking, or any of the other ways we keep ourselves from feeling, we will never heal. We can try to run away from our suffering, but it will always be there, haunting us. It lives on in our bodies and our minds and wreaks havoc on our lives. It causes more suffering, and it continues to build on itself. We must accept our grief and let it flow through us. It is uncomfortable, but our pain is just as impermanent as the reality we are grieving. Only after we have allowed ourselves to fully feel our emotions and make peace with them and our loss can we truly begin to heal. Only then can we fully move on into our new reality, allowing for life to continue without answers and accepting it exactly as it is.

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Brett Campbell

Brett Campbell is the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the US Air Force. He has also worked as a hospital and hospice chaplain. He is a graduate of Naropa University’s Master of Divinity program and is currently training to become a certified a life coach. Brett founded Life Lived Now LLC, a mindfulness based personal coaching company whose mission is to empower people to discover their authentic selves and live their lives to the fullest. He was ordained as an Upasaka by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

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Teachings to Prepare for Death

Intermediate States: Bardos and Living and Dying from Ancient India to 21st Century New York

The term bardo, often translated as "intermediate state" is a term that entered the popular imagination in the West with the publication of W.Y. Evans-Wentz's 1927 translation of The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States, which he rendered as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It is curious that such a specialized esoteric text packed with the imagery of Buddhist tantra and intended for practitioners who had undergone years of training and received the proper initiations, came to be so well-known. But such was the attraction of the exotic then, and that attraction continues: new translations continue to appear, keeping Evans-Wentz's title and presenting the visions of peaceful and wrathful deities to a wide audience.

But there is something more to its appeal than simply infatuation with the exotic as, if one looks closely, the teachings on intermediate states - made famous in this text - have an intuitive appeal and in fact are enmeshed with broader teachings of karma, suffering, and our possibility for transcendence. So when we see an artist like Laurie Anderson whose new film Heart of the Dog explores death and letting go through the lens of the bardo teachings, the very immediate and human experience of these teachings is laid bare in a contemporary context.

Walter Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Buddhism, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Anthropologist
Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (02/02/1878 – 07/17/1965): American anthropologist and writer who was a pioneer in the study of Tibetan Buddhism.

Recent Releases on the Bardo Teachings

In How We Live Is How We Die, Pema Chödrön shares her wisdom for working with this flow of life—learning to live with ease, joy, and compassion through uncertainty, embracing new beginnings, and ultimately preparing for death with curiosity and openness rather than fear.

Also available as an audiobook.

How We Live Is How We Die

More Books on the Bardo Teachings

The Tibetan Book of the Dead Chogyam TrungpaOne of the most well-known versions of the The Tibetan Book of the Dead  was translated by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Francesca Fremantle with a commentary by the former. On one level, the teachings presented in this text are instructions on how an advanced practitioner can secure liberation within the actual process of death. As they progress through these well-mapped stages of dying, opportunities present themselves for the practitioner to recognize what is happening and, with relative ease, free themselves from the cycle of rebirth, up to 49 days  after the physical body is considered dead. In popular practice, the text was often read to those in the process of dying, whether or not they had engaged in the training to achieve this goal.

While the concept of intermediate states was present in various schools of Buddhism in India, the teachings on these really flourished in the Tibetan traditions most of all. It was here where the different states - and detailed descriptions of them - were mapped out in extraordinary detail by the texts as well as adepts who mastered them. The particular text focused on here, a revelation of Karma Lingpa in the 14th century, is a continuation - or perhaps re-ignition - of a set of teachings rooted in a much older tradition of the Guhyagarbha tantra which was compiled from even older texts and oral instructions in India in the 6th century and came to Tibet with Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. So there is a long history to these teachings with death and dying where the rubber meets the road.

However, there is also a way of presenting them that emphasizes how they are applicable to the here and now. As Trungpa Rinpoche explains in his Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardos," the experience of the six bardos is not concerned with the future alone; it also concerns the present moment. Every step of experience, every step of life, is a bardo experience."

Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa

Milarepa (1040-1123)

The great yogi Milarepa, beloved saint of the Himalayas, wrote a Vajra-song about the bardos, detailed in Opening the Treasure of the Profound, which conveys how sentient beings and Buddhas share the same nature, the implication being that anyone can become enlightened in the here and now as we continually pass through these intermediate states.

Francesca Fremantle in her Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead explores more deeply this idea that bardo teachings are as much for this present life as it is for the next life.

In Mind Beyond Death, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche gives a very comprehensive presentation of the bardos, providing a framework for directing our own story of living and dying. That is a very powerful message.

Teachings to Prepare for Death

For those interested in the emphasis of these teachings to prepare for death specifically, there is a wealth of material to support their practice. It should be noted that this text and associated practices are meant to be done under the guidance of a qualified master with an unbroken lineage from the source.

One of the most readable treatments of the bardos is Tulku Thondup's Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: A Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook. Tulku Rinpoche gives a wonderful overview of how death is not the end, why practice is important for both this life and the death process, and then gets into very specific teachings and practices which the reader can actually do.

A more distilled treatment can be found in Dudjom Rinpoche's Counsels from My Heart where he briefly presents the six bardos and describes the state of a dying person as they progress through these states.

Preparing to Die is another excellent source book for those who are facing death or working with those who are dying. It is a spiritual toolkit that discusses the bardos that also includes very practical advice from contemporary masters. It also covers more worldly matters from the medical to the legal.

More Traditional Accounts of the Bardos

Some other more traditional accounts of the bardos include Lama Lodu's Bardo Teachings: The Way of Death & Rebirth. This is a complement to Trungpa and Fremantle's translation as it includes teachings on the Chikai bardo, the intermediate state that occurs at the moment of death which were not included in Trungpa Rinpoche's volume.

While many of the above are presentations of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, all the other schools have very clear teachings on the bardos. One example is Tsongkhapa's presentation included in The Six Yogas of Naropa.

Can we control our own trajectory when we die?

What all these have in common of course is that they present the very real possibility that any of us, with proper training in the preliminary and main practices, can live a life with fearlessness with the skills and ability to control our own trajectory when we die.

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Excerpts on Life of the 17th Karmapa

The following article is from the Spring, 2003 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Tibetan Buddhism, Karmapa, Music in the Sky

Music in the Sky: The Life, Art and Teachings of the 17th Karmapa

By Michele Martin


The first authorized compilation of the Karmapa's teachings, plus stories from his life and examples of his art

As the second millennium drew to a close, the Seventeenth Karmapa leapt from the roof at his monastery in Tibet. Evading his Chinese guards, the then 14-year-old spiritual leader began a grueling, dangerous journey to India. The Karmapa's picture has appeared all over the world since then, yet his own words are hard to find. Now, for the first time in print, Music in the Sky offers a series of the Karmapa's profound teachings, an extensive selection of his poetry, and a detailed and gripping account of his life and flight from his homeland. Readers will be captivated by this wonderfully accessible and profound book.

Music in the Sky concludes with brief biographies of all 16 previous Karmapas, specially composed for this publication by the highly respected Seventh Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. Here, the reader will discover the compelling histories of the first Tibetan masters to be recognized as reincarnate lamas. Music in the Sky presents a definitive portrait of the Seventeenth Karmapa, strengthened and illuminated by an authoritative depiction of his place in one of the world's most revered lines of spiritual teachers.

The bright sun of the Gyalwa Karmapa shines throughout this book. It illuminates his young life from his discovery in eastern Tibet through his difficult journey to India. The text also reveals the breadth of his teachings and the beauty of his poetry and art.

Anyone wishing to know more about him and the ancient tradition of Buddhism he embodies would do well to read this book.

KHENCHEN THRANGU RINPOCHE, tutor to H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, and author of Essential PracticeEveryday Consciousness and Buddha- Awakening

(now titled, Everyday Consciousness and Primordial Awareness).

MICHELE MARTIN has published numerous translations and has served as an oral translator from Tibetan and as a teacher all over the world. She lives in Woodstock, NY.


The following is a selection of excerpts from Music in the Sky.


The biography:

Arriving at the monastery around 9: 00 A.M., Lama Tsultrim took out the carefully wrapped clothes they had bought for the Karmapa and told one of his attendants,

"These are Lama Nyima's. Please bring them to him."

In this way, the Karmapa's change of clothes arrived safely in his room.

Then Lama Tsultrim went to talk to the administration about leaving. In line with his former paving project, he said,

"We need a courtyard in front of the new temple of the Tsurphu Lhachen. I want to go and raise funds for it in Nagchu."

While practicing the path that leads to stable, unexcelled bliss, when we meet with problems, we are also meeting with the pure nature they embody: the possibility of liberation arises at the same time as the problem.

He was easily given permission to leave and returned to his room, where he lived alone. He was too worried to eat. Thinking that he was leaving on a long trip, his friends came to visit with him. They offered to take his things to the car, but he replied,

"I'm not sure if I'm leaving tonight or tomorrow morning, so let's wait on that."

Bidding good-bye and good luck, they left.

This same day, Lama Nyirna telephoned from Tsurphu to Nenang Lama in Lhasa. In the course of their conversation, he mentioned:

"This evening at 10:30 the Chinese are showing a special program on TV. Why don't you take a look at it?"

Nenang Lama responded,

"I'd like to see it."

This way he knew that the guards would be watching TV at 10:30 and the Karmapa could escape then.

I have many relatives and friends in Tibet, but one day I will die and have to part from each one of them. His Holiness is a great master of Tibet and has been for so many generations. My broader responsibility is to him.

That afternoon, Lama Nyima and Thubten said to the driver, Dargye,

"Bring around the car and let's go for a little drive."

They went to the Lower Park, a beautiful place with a summer residence for the Karmapa and the home of a special deer. They left the car on the road and walked up into the park. They said to Dargye,

"Let's sit down here. Have a seat, we had a special purpose in inviting you here. His Holiness is leaving for India and thought that you would be the best person to drive. You're an experienced driver and know the car so well. If you don't want to go, that's all right. We're not forcing you in any way. Everything depends on your mind and inclination. Can you make up your mind to leave your parents and relatives? Think it over carefully. If you decide to go, we leave tonight at 10:30. If you come, it's a great decision. If you choose not to go, it's all right, but you must not tell anyone else."

Dargye reflected:

"I have many relatives and friends in Tibet, but one day I will die and have to part from each one of them. His Holiness is a great master of Tibet and has been for so many generations. My broader responsibility is to him."

He replied:

"I will go with you. Don't worry."

Around five o'clock that afternoon, Lama Nyima came to visit Lama Tsultrim in his room to confirm that they would be leaving at 10:30. He gave him a necklace of coral and zi stones for the Karmapa saying,

"When he arrives at Rumtek, it would be beneficial to wear it during lama dancing."

He advised Lama Tsultrim to be extremely careful on the road, taking good care of the Karmapa so that the police would not capture him and they could arrive safely in India. He said,

"If His Holiness can escape to India and meet Situ Rinpoche, Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and Jamgon Rinpoche and finally go to Rumtek, I will have no regrets even if I lose my life."

then at the end of the Mahakala puja, I realized he had composed a recognition letter for a young tulku.

During this uncertain year, the Karmapa continued to recognize tulkus. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche described one occasion:

"One evening, we were doing the Mahakala puja, and His Holiness the Karmapa asked me to bring the computer. I was very uncomfortable bringing the computer to the Mahakala puja, but it was a command, so I brought his laptop to the puja. Then he said to write down what he would dictate, and so in between the chanting, I was writing his words down. He would say one word and then play the music with the damaru and bell, and then he would say another word. At first, I could not tell what he was dictating, and then at the end of the Mahakala puja, I realized he had composed a recognition letter for a young tulku. It just comes like that. There is the name of a place, the father's name, the mother's name, and the year in which the -child is born. Amazing! I have heard of these things before but never experienced them directly."

Tibetan Buddhism, Damaru pellet ritual drum

Spiritual traditions have their freedom, and we are also free to choose one that draws us and to hold its lineage. With many different traditions, the Buddhist teachings have a broader opportunity to grow and spread and bring benefit to this world.

From the teachings:

Question: Do we need to embrace just one spiritual tradition, or can we go around to all of them and take a little here and a little there?

Answer: All over the world, we find many diverse spiritual traditions. Within Tibet, there are mainly five that have classic descriptions: the glorious Sakyapa, the Nyingma of the Secret Mantrayana, the Gelukpa or those from the mountain of Ganden, the Kagyupa, protectors of living beings, and the Bonpo of the unchanging, nature. Each one of these accords with the particular perspectives of its followers. In the realm of taste, if someone likes bread, then they are given bread; if they like tea, they are given tea. In the same way, when we are studying, whichever teaching draws our interest and devotion is the one we study and practice.

Shantideva, Tibetan Buddhism, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of LifePerhaps you have studied The Guide to the Bodhisattva Path. It states that if there are many different spiritual traditions, many living beings can be guided along the path, and so the activity of leading them into the Dharma is more extensive. If there were only one spiritual tradition, some might like it and others not. With a variety of traditions, everyone can find something that fits. It is important to follow our inclination. For example, if some people do not eat chilies and one day you force them to eat chilies, it will only burn their mouth, and make them very uncomfortable. This has no benefit at all.

The Buddha taught for the benefit and happiness of every living being, not to force people to practice a particular spiritual tradition. For example, someone might prefer the yellow hat of the Gelukpa tradition to the red hat of the Kagyu. People should follow what they want to do, and later the reason for their preference, perhaps a hidden feeling, will surface. Therefore, from the perspective of what appears and appeals to individual beings, the different spiritual traditions were taught.

This spiritual tradition called Buddhism was taught by Shakyamuni Buddha so that all beings would benefit and attain happiness. There was absolutely no pressure to coerce anyone into practicing this tradition. As with the chillies, forceful tactics do not help at all. The Buddha did not teach to bring discomfort; he taught so that every living being could gather all the enrichments of life that bring well-being and happiness. Especially in this present world, independence, peace, and happiness are important. Spiritual traditions have their freedom, and we are also free to choose one that draws us and to hold its lineage. With many different traditions, the Buddhist teachings have a broader opportunity to grow and spread and bring benefit to this world.

Religious Symbols Buddha Monk in Buddhism

While practicing the path that leads to stable, unexcelled bliss, when we meet with problems, we are also meeting with the pure nature they embody: the possibility of liberation arises at the same time as the problem. We should also remember that we are practicing not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of the infinite living beings in all realms.

For those who are practicing Dharma, various negative conditions come about and different kinds of fear arise. These can cause doubts to surface:

"Why should this be happening?"

Such thoughts could even propel someone into abandoning the Dharma. We should remember, however, that these negative situations arise for everyone who practices the Dharma, whether they are part of the monastic sangha or lay people who have taken refuge in the Three jewels.

The Dharma is of great value: it is an unexcelled path that brings us and all living beings equal to the extent of space onto the path of bodhichitta that leads to complete liberation. Since we are seeking to attain such a great goal, naturally there will be problems. Further, not only in relation to our Dharma practice but whatever activity we may be engaged in, it is not possible to avoid some minor, temporary problems. While practicing the path that leads to stable, unexcelled bliss, when we meet with problems, we are also meeting with the pure nature they embody: the possibility of liberation arises at the same time as the problem. We should also remember that we are practicing not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of the infinite living beings in all realms.

Negative spirits who create difficulties for Dharma practitioners will throw obstacles in the path of those who seek liberation. The harm they seek is to erase from the meditator's mind the desire to practice and attain liberation. Understanding this situation, practitioners should increase their diligence as much as possible and make as great an effort as they can to practice Dharma. This has two advantages. First, the obstacles can be stopped before they arise; and second, not losing all the work we put into practicing the path of liberation, we can continue along our journey.

Negative spirits who create difficulties for Dharma practitioners will throw obstacles in the path of those who seek liberation.

These days, some practitioners think that they must meditate intensely and attain all the qualities and special attributes of the Dharma, but they do not know well the nature of the view, meditation, or conduct taught in their own tradition. Even so, they insist that sometime very soon they will be enlightened and endowed with all the major and minor marks of the Buddha. When this does not happen, they say,

"The Dharma is useless. It doesn't work. I practiced hard, but it was all for nothing."

It is true that within the genuine Dharma, there is the path of the Secret Mantrayana, or the Vajrayana, which is very swift. There we find the oral instruction that states,

"If you meditate right now, you'll become awakened right now."

The Buddha and all his followers continuously taught this. However, if our minds lack the mental strength or capacity to accomplish such a swift path, there is little chance of swift liberation. The possibility of attaining liberation depends on whether the Buddha taught this path; however, achieving liberation depends on us. Therefore, if we do not put forth our full strength, the Dharma will enter inside but will not become manifest. If we do not have the capacity or the necessary attributes to attain the fruition of the practice in our tradition, we might then go to another tradition and, not attaining the result once again, disparage that tradition, saying that it Is not good. This pattern is the result of not being able to distinguish between a religious tradition and the individual, between the teachings and our limited self.

There are other benefits from receiving an empowerment, but the main point is for us to see the very nature of our mind.

In Buddhism, what we call "a religious tradition" means practicing a view or philosophy of the mind. All the paths found in these traditions are related to the mind. The Buddha and the incomparable masters who followed him taught that taming our minds is extremely important. Many of us have studied the major texts of Buddhism. (How much other types of study, like the sciences, benefit the mind ultimately is not clear.) If we receive a commentary on how to meditate on the preliminary practices or if we take an empowerment, these activities can benefit our minds. They are the heart of Dharma and have the purpose of establishing in our mind the habitual pattern for true happiness. If these do not help us, then receiving an empowerment does not impart its essential benefit: it is just placing a vase on our heads, and a great deal of work for the lamas.

There are other benefits from receiving an empowerment, but the main point is for us to see the very nature of our mind. It is beneficial if positive habitual patterns can be established within our mind, for example, an experience of the true nature that can blend with and benefit our mind. If this does not arise, then no matter how many texts we have studied or how many empowerments we have received, they will not be very useful. It is crucial to connect with the essential nature of our own mind.

For more information:

Tibetan Buddhism, The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley DorjeThe 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the spiritual head of one of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The 900-year-old lineage of Karmapas has included some of Tibet’s greatest spiritual masters. Born to nomadic parents in rural Tibet, he was identified while still a young child as the heir to this leadership position. In 2000, the Karmapa’s dramatic escape to India from Chinese-ruled Tibet at the age of fourteen propelled him onto the world stage.


Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Tibetan BuddhismDzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, born in 1965 in northeast India, was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of many of the greatest masters from Tibet’s pre-exile generation. He is a widely celebrated teacher, known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds, and devotes much of his energy to developing a vision of a genuine Western Buddhism.


Tibetan Buddhism, Khenchen Thrangu RinpocheKhenchen Thrangu is an eminent teacher of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was appointed by the Dalai Lama to be the personal tutor for His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa and has authored many books, including Pointing Out the DharmakayaEveryday Consciousness and Primordial Awareness, and Vivid Awareness.


New and Recent Books on the Karmapas

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Samaya Vows

The Secret Mantra’s samaya vows of the masters of awareness are twofold: those associated with maturing empowerments and those associated with liberating instructions. Generally speaking, there are a hundred thousand different categories of samaya, out of which there are twenty-five essential samaya vows. These, however, can be condensed even further into the three samayas of enlightened form, speech, and mind.

As stated in the Tantra of the Clear Expanse:

All samayas are explained to be contained
In those of enlightened form, speech and mind.

Concerning the samaya of enlightened form, you should not act disrespectfully towards the vajra master, the buddhas, bodhisattvas, yidam deities, dakinis, your brothers and sisters, vajra siblings, nor towards any sentient being, the five elements, or your own body. You should also refrain from taking their lives, stealing from them, abusing them physically or verbally, and so on. You shouldn’t have a distorted sense of pure view or do anything that involves nonvirtuous activities or negativity. In fact, the environment and its inhabitants, both inside and out, as well as your own body, are all divine; they are all the yidam deity. For this reason, you should have unbiased pure view towards anything associated with enlightened form, as well as make prostrations and offerings, sing their praises, and do other such things.

Concerning the samaya of enlightened speech, you should not deviate from anything that the vajra master says, nor should you belittle the Buddhist scriptures, from those of the Buddha himself down to those written by ordinary people. You should also avoid being angry or harboring malice towards any word or sound, whether it comes from the elements or a living being. Instead, act with respect and devotion, thinking of every sound as the enlightened speech of all the buddhas.

When it comes to the samaya of the enlightened mind, you should eliminate every unvirtuous thought, to the point where such thoughts do not even arise for a moment. Without breaking the continuity of virtue and bodhichitta, benefit others to the best of your ability.

As part of the samaya of enlightened form, you should meditate on the development stage of the divine yidam deity; as part of the samaya of enlightened speech, never part from the recitation of mantras; and as part of the samaya of the enlightened mind, never stray from the cycle of the completion stage.

Cortland Dahl & Dzogchen Ponlop

The temporary benefits of maintaining the samaya of enlightened form in this way are that your body will be free from illness and of benefit to sentient beings. You will be pleasing to the eye, and all who touch or see you will be set on the path of virtue. Ultimately, you will arrive at the vajra seat and benefit others wherever you happen to be. Once you die, you will work for the welfare of sentient beings with an infinite number of manifestations. Your form blazing with the marks and signs, you will gain mastery over the great, enlightened activities of the buddhas and work for the welfare of others.

If the samaya of enlightened form degenerates, the temporary results will be a short life and ill-health. All sorts of undesirable things will take place and those who see or touch you will be reborn in the lower realms. Ultimately, you will experience the inescapable physical sufferings of Vajra Hell.

The temporary benefits of maintaining the samaya of enlightened speech are that your speech will be pleasing and everyone will regard what you say as the truth. As a result, gods, spirits and humans will do your bidding. You will understand the tantras, scriptures and key instructions and will be able to compose all manner of poetry and treatises, a multitude of dharma words having burst forth from your mind. All the malice and ill-will of those who listen to your speech will be pacified, all of your aims will be accomplished, and you will be liberated in one life. Ultimately, the emanations of your speech will carry out the welfare of beings and turn the wheel of the Dharma in a faultless manner.

If the samaya of enlightened speech degenerates, the temporary effects will be such that you will be in danger of contracting diseases of the tongue. Your slanderous remarks and harmful comments will harm both yourself and others, and all those who hear your words will have bad luck and be reborn in the lower realms. Ultimately, you will suffer from having five hundred ploughs run through your tongue.

The temporary benefit of maintaining the samaya of enlightened mind is that your mental emanations will tame beings. The concentration born in your own mind will naturally bring about a state of meditation in the minds of other beings. Wherever you happen to be, concentration will arise and the sentient beings in the area will be reborn in the Realm of Bliss. Ultimately, all sentient beings will be established in buddhahood and, inseparable from the vajra mind, they will transcend suffering.

If the samaya of enlightened mind degenerates, on the other hand, the temporary results will be that vice will cause harm to everyone, to both yourself and others. None of your aims will be accomplished. Instead, they will be ill-fated and illness, malicious forces and depression will beset you. Ultimately, you will have no chance to escape the lower realms.

In short, when the vows associated with the maturing empowerments are present in one’s state of being, the samaya vows need to be maintained. You should, therefore, turn away from all forms of vice and practice only virtue. In all the tantras of the Ancient Translation School, such as the Array of Samayas Tantra, the Secret Mantra’s samaya vows of the masters of awareness are taught to be of primary importance.

There are, in fact, boundless classifications of these vows, including the hundred thousand classes of samaya. The presentation here has followed that found in the texts of Heart Essence of the Dakinis, where these classifications are presented in a condensed form.

More Books by Cortland Dahl

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Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche on Traversing the Bardo of Becoming

The following is an excerpt from

Mind Beyond Death

By Dzogchen Ponlop


What happens right after death? Below Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche offers a practical description of the taste of that experience.

Mind Beyond Death

$26.95 - Paperback

By: Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

In the first stage of this bardo, when we still see ourselves as who we are right now, the appearances of the life we have just left can arise for us quite vividly. At this time, we can see and hear all the people that we have known; our family and friends, as well as our teachers and members of our spiritual community. Since we possess a mental body, whenever we think about any one of them, we are there with that person. However, while we can see them and even know to some extent what they are thinking and feeling as a result of our death, they are unaware of our presence. They do not respond to us when we call out to them. We cannot directly comfort them or be comforted by them.

From the perspective of those who are left behind in the bardo of this life, it is important to understand that there is initially some possibility that the consciousness of the departed person may be drawn back into the presence of loved ones and familiar surroundings. Therefore, it is important for those of us remaining to have positive thoughts and to create a positive and stable environment, as this will assist the consciousness of that person and ease his or her passage through this bardo. If we are going through emotional turmoil, then our loved one may be distressed by our pain. If we are feeling angry or indifferent, then that may cause him or her to become angry or despairing, sensing a lack of love and support.

We should also be mindful of our thoughts regarding their possessions and of our actions in regard to the belongings they have left behind. We should handle them with care and respect. If we mishandle them, then the consciousness in the bardo may suffer, just as we would if we walked into a room and saw someone take something that we liked very much and destroy it. We would not be happy. Therefore we should remember that the departed person sees and reacts in the same way that we do; we are all vulnerable to states of confusion and suffering.

Because of the power of mind in the bardo, we have the possibility of helping anyone with whom we have a close connection during this stressful passage. By maintaining a clear, peaceful and positive mental state, we will help them to relax in that state as well. By relating to them with genuine love and compassion, and with the attitude of bodhichitta that wishes only for their happiness and liberation, then we will definitely help this person. That is the best practice we can do.

In the same way, we can also help those with whom we have more distant connections, as well as beings who are unknown to us. These days, we are in a situation where we hear reports from the media about people throughout the world who have died due to various causes: war, famine, disease, natural disasters and tragic accidents. When we read these reports or hear about them on TV and see the graphic images of these events, if we make a little prayer and generate positive thoughts, we will be making positive connections with the beings who are undergoing the experience of death. Based on making this connection, we can actually help those beings. We can help them attain enlightenment, and they can help us attain enlightenment, which is what we call a twofold benefit; benefiting oneself and benefiting others.

This is better than getting angry or simply feeling sad and depressed when we see such things happening in the world. It is preferable to becoming caught up in our beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, and then generating thoughts of aggression and blame. Such negative thoughts do not ever help those who have died, and they are also harmful to our state of mind. Even though we may not be able to maintain completely pure thoughts from moment to moment, or throughout the period of forty-nine days, at least our first thought can be a positive one. When we can sincerely generate positive thoughts and prayers for the well being of friends and strangers alike, this is immediately beneficial and may even prove auspicious beyond our knowing for their spiritual journey as well as our own.

Traditional Tibetans, when hearing of someone’s death, will immediately recite mantras, or short prayers, so to speak, which invoke blessings and connection with enlightened mind. Mantras are thus regarded as a form of mind protection. There are any number of mantras that can be recited, such as: om mani padma hum, karmapa cheno, or om vajra guru padma siddhi hum. After reciting mantras, we make aspiration prayers and generate positive thoughts. We conclude by dedicating the merit of our positive thoughts and aspirations for the ultimate liberation of those beings.

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The following excerpt is from

 Great Perfection: Outer and Inner Preliminaries 

Great Perfection

by the Third Dzogchen Rinpoche

This brief excerpt clearly and simply lays out what the term Dzogchen means.

The instructions of the Dzogchen lineage are used to directly point out the nature of mind and bring the experience of enlightenment into our ordinary life and experiences. Therefore, these teachings are known as “pith instructions,” the heart or quintessence of pure knowledge that cuts through all confusion and gets straight to the point. There is a saying, “don’t beat around the bush,” meaning “get to the point.” That is Dzogchen.

In many ways, these teachings go beyond scripture and the formality of spiritual techniques. These two do have their place, since it is important to study scripture and meditate in a step-by-step manner, but at the same time, we also have to go directly to the nature of mind at some point. We have to strike the crucial point, the enlightened state, and leap directly into the experience and realization of the true nature of our mind.

The term Dzogchen can be translated into English in different ways: as the Great Completion, the Great Perfection and the Great Exhaustion. It is called the “Great Completion” because the nature of mind is endowed with all enlightened qualities and everything is complete within it. Everything is complete within this path, within these instructions. If we relate this to our individual path and practice, then it means that our mind itself is completely awakened right from the beginning. It is full of the genuine qualities of buddhahood. There is nothing missing.

It is called “Great Perfection” because the nature of mind and the nature of the world is perfect from the beginning. There are no impurities in the true nature of mind. All such incidental stains are temporary. The true nature, or reality, of mind is perfect; it is inherently pure, which in Dzogchen language is called the “primordial pure” nature. Therefore, you don’t have to look beyond or go outside of your immediate experience to find another thought or emotion that is more sacred, more pure.

It is called the “Great Exhaustion” because, first, from the point of view of the fruition of the path, all the mind’s impurities are exhausted and consumed; and second, from the point of view of mind’s true nature, these impurities have never had any true existence. In reality, they have no true essence. They are just the confused appearances of our thoughts. From the positive side we say they are primordially pure, and from the point of view of negation we say they are primordially nonexistent.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Tibetan BuddhismDzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, born in 1965 in northeast India, was trained in the meditative and intellectual disciplines of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of many of the greatest masters from Tibet’s pre-exile generation. He is a widely celebrated teacher, known for his skill in making the full richness of Buddhist wisdom accessible to modern minds, and devotes much of his energy to developing a vision of a genuine Western Buddhism. For more information, go to

Books by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

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